Review: Royal Court Stinks Of Lynx And Sweaty Socks

Yen at Jerwood Theatre Upstairs at the Royal Court ★★★★☆

By James FitzGerald Last edited 100 months ago

Last Updated 27 January 2016

Review: Royal Court Stinks Of Lynx And Sweaty Socks Yen at Jerwood Theatre Upstairs at the Royal Court 4
Sian Breckin and Jake Davies as mother and son in Yen. Photo by Richard Davenport.

You can practically smell the pong of Lynx body spray and socks in Yen — and that’s a surprisingly good thing, because Anna Jordan’s bold play looks to evoke the sweaty depths of a boys’ bedroom. Note how absorbent the set’s carpet is when you walk in. They’ll be needing that.

Hench, 16, and his younger “bruv” Bobbie, 13, live on their own in a Feltham council flat, making boob gags and swearing at each other at a pace matchable only by The Inbetweeners. Hats off (or rather, shirts off) to both Alex Austin and Jake Davies, who swagger about the place perfectly pointlessly, wearing only their tracky bottoms, and bouncing off the walls in a quite literal sense.  Very rarely, their negligent mum (Sian Breckin) shows up; wasted, and begging for money or booze.

Beyond the schooling they’ve received from shoot-'em-up PlayStation games and an internet porn habit, mum’s little monsters are virtually non-socialised beings. That’s a watchable case study in and of itself. The pair are no freer than Taliban, their vicious dog, who’s hidden away in a room gradually piling up with his own excrement. And this airless enclosure they all share is more than just a curious petri dish of male hormones and restless rage; it’s a souped-up, bedroom-sized incubator.   

16 year old Jenny (Annes Elwy) shows up at the flat, keen to walk the poor mutt and save it from this hell. The addition of some feminine mystique puts the incubator into meltdown. When Jenny comes in, suddenly Bobbie’s rivalry with his older brother is about more than shooting each other on Call of Duty. The subsequent course of events serves only to disrupt their already dysfunctional siblingdom, but also to reveal just how normal their own separate abnormalities are.   

It might not always be easy viewing, but Yen is a masterclass in the vivid and the visceral. This doesn’t seem an expressly political play even if  it does imagine what goes on behind the curtains of 'broken Britain': the mum is specifically made out to be merely a pre-determined transmitter of neglect rather than a creator of it. But there’s no missing the commentary. What looks, at first, like a child’s swing turns out to be just a computer keyboard hanging off a wire. This, it seems, is a world raised by LCD screens.

Yen runs until 11 February 2016 at Jerwood Theatre Upstairs at the Royal Court, Sloane Square, London, SW1W 8AS. Tickets from £20. Londonist saw this performance with a complimentary ticket.